Hilltoppers finish regular season, hand Marshall first loss in overtime thriller


Wow. Wow. Wow. I’m still trying to find the words, but wow. The Hilltoppers, who were seemingly written off by everyone (including, I regret, yours truly) coming into the season finale against an undefeated and nationally ranked Marshall team, have done it. They’ve defeated a Top 25 team for the first time in school FBS history, and finish their first season in Conference USA 7-5 after a 67-66 shootout thriller. My. Word.

The Hilltoppers dictated the pace of the game early, taking the opening drive of the game 62 yards in just over three minutes, and scoring their next touchdown in just one play, after getting the possession thanks to the first of three interceptions Rakeem Cato threw to Branden LestonMarshall would respond on their next drive, setting up a shootout in the first half, which saw a 28-21 WKU lead after one quarter and a 49-42 halftime score. In total – seven Tops’ touchdowns and six Herd TD’s in the first 30 minutes.

Out of halftime, however, things slowed down, and the third quarter only saw one touchdown – a Steward Butler 22-yard run to tie the game – and the teams traded blows in the fourth before finishing regulation tied at 59.

WKU won the coin toss, elected to go on defense, and gave up a 25 yard pass from Cato to Hyleck Foster – he caught the ball in the flat near the sideline, and an attempted push out of bounds (as opposed to tackle) by the WKU defense allowed him to tiptoe the sideline and score.

The Tops would answer back with a 25-yard touchdown pass of their own, as Brandon Doughty found Jared Dangerfield in the very back of the endzone, and after a timeout to talk things over, the Tops decided to go for it, and Doughty found Willie McNeal at the front of the endzone to ice the game.

It was a day to remember for Doughty, as he threw for 491 yards and eight touchdowns, eclipsing Kawaun Jakes’ school record of TD’s thrown in a season way back in the first quarter. Doughty showed off his progression at times from last year to this year, and was able to work out of pressure in the pocket wonderfully in the first half. There was also a point in which half of his completions were touchdown passes. It was that kind of day.

Tyler Higbee was the recipient of three touchdown passes today, hauling in six catches for 99 yards. Dangerfield also had a pair of scores, and was one of two receivers to have over 100 yards in 117 on eight catches. Taywan Taylor had 122 yards on four catches and a touchdown.

Mr. Cato didn’t have too shabby of a day himself, as he threw for 417 yards and seven touchdowns, but the four picks he threw into loomed large, as the Tops took full advantage of turning the picks into points. The Herd also had a pair of 100+ yard receivers, with Davonte Allen going for 141 on six catches (he was disqualified from the game in the second half) and Tommy Shuler had 132 yards on 10 catches. Shuler was wide open in the endzone on the last play of the game, but Cato out threw him out of bounds.

There was also a pair of 230+ yard rushers, as both Leon Allen (237) and Steward Butler (233) had great days on the ground.

The defense, on both sides, was just awful. But, the Hilltoppers made the bigger plays on that side of the ball, but didn’t make it easy for the offense, but luckily they got some breaks to go their way, and here we are.

If the Tops’ had played like this all year and not just over the past four games, who knows where this team would be in terms of record. They looked really, really solid, and now a bowl game seems like a given for WKU.